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National Ballet of Canada

'Sleeping Beauty'

by Toba Singer

November 21, 2009 -- Toronto

Said to be set to the most faithful of orchestrations of the Tchaikovsky score, National Ballet of Canada’s “Sleeping Beauty” follows the familiar libretto. However, the Rudolf Nureyev version numbers the fairies in lieu of naming them and has the Lilac Fairy – in a costume layered like a frosted cake – floating in at critical moments, more in the persona of an eyes-everywhere Godmother, rather than dancing her benevolence as the story’s silken binding.  If you’ve grown up on other versions, you can be looking for the wrong things from the right dancers and vice-versa – or – mid-way through the show realize that you should let go of your orthodoxy and just watch the dancing.  If you do the latter, you see a three-dimensional Prince Florimund (Guillaume Coté), whose heart rules his gallantry, a Princess Aurora (Heather Ogden) whose saucy speed spirits a delicious exhilaration, and enjoy the technically spiffy and artful dancing of Bridgett Zehr as “Sixth Variation/Principal Fairy.” Carabosse, the Wicked Fairy, is danced by Rebekah Rimsay, whose Joan Crawford dastardliness cathects with Heather Ogden’s timeless sweet sixteenishness to lard the story with theatricality. 

Unlike most productions where the audience feels as though it has been invited to a three-act soirée, the text of this one is enriched with mime so that each story detail is clear, up to and including the King’s edict that Carabosse’s curse places the palace on something tantamount to “Orange Alert” and thus renders it a needle-free zone.  When a poor old woman found knitting on the palace steps nearly becomes the Saddam Hussein of the story, the Lilac Fairy rolls in just in time to win the King over to commuting the knitter’s  beheading.  Florimund makes his entrance as a game of darts begins in a clearing.  He has  an eye not only for darts, but in a game of Blind Man’s Bluff contrives to attach himself, caboose-like, to a train of beautiful women.

These touches, along with the elegant costumes, not all of which offered the most advantageous view of the dancers’ line, book-end the ritual moments in the show: the Rose Adagio – dispatched deftly by Ogden and her suitors – and the Act III Divertissements, which make for a discrete performance in their own right.  Bluebird and Princess Florine, danced by Naoya Ebe and Jillian Vanstone, drew cheers from the audience, as did the more affectionate and less fractious-than-other-versions Pussycats,  delivered delightfully by Klara Houdet and Robert Stephen.  Bridgett Zehr’s Diamond Lady, danced with Diamond Man Brett Van Sickle, captured the iconic zest of the Divertissements interlude, and their black-and-white diamond-studded costumes mirrored the aristocratic glamour of the entire production.  We missed seeing Red Riding Hood and her Wolf, but the buoyant Aurora’s Wedding pas de deux by Ogden and Coté more than made up for that omission. Though the score may not have waxed as elaborate as those that have succeeded this version’s, it was not a stumbling block to this reviewer whistling the waltz melody rather loudly as she boarded her flight from Toronto to San Francisco two days post-performance.

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